With the start of the new school year, Finland has started vaccinating children over 12 in schools.
Vaccinating children has raised many questions for parents. Finland is a country in which a sector of the population is openly anti-vax and where active campaigns have been carried out on social media against the Covid-19 vaccination. In the past two weeks, the police have had to intervene at least on a couple of occasions due to the presence in schools of individuals handing out leaflets that discourage vaccination among students.
Health authorities in Finland and around the world say that many of the arguments put forward by promoters of anti-vaccination campaigns have no scientific basis. They also emphasize that getting vaccinated is the best way to fight the pandemic.
Taking the vaccine is voluntary in Finland, but children over 12 years of age can decide for themselves whether or not they want to receive the vaccine.
In an attempt to clear up some doubts about the childhood vaccine, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has put together 5 answers to important questions.
This summary is based on questions sent by members of the public and responded to by THL experts.
1- Does a healthy 12–15-year-old benefit from Covid-19 vaccination?
Coronavirus disease is generally mild in children and young people. It is known that young people in risk groups get a severe form of Covid-19 disease more often than other people of the same age. In rare cases, however, coronavirus may also cause a healthy young person to develop serious coronavirus disease or a secondary disease.
Young people have also been reported to experience long-term symptoms after having a coronavirus infection, but there is only a small amount of research data on this subject.
Coronavirus vaccination reduces human transmission of the virus. Therefore, vaccination also makes it possible to alleviate the need for restrictions on children and young people. For example, restrictions on schools and hobbies have a strong impact on children's well-being.
2- Is there sufficient knowledge about coronavirus vaccines to ensure that vaccination of young people is safe?
The safety and efficacy of the Biontech-Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines were studied in persons aged 12 to 15 before a conditional marketing authorisation was granted.
In these studies, the vaccines were found to be very effective in preventing young people from developing symptomatic coronavirus disease.
The adverse effects observed in the studies preceding the marketing authorisation were the same as for young adults. These adverse effects were mild and transient, and included fever, headaches and injection site pain.
In very rare cases, recipients of an mRNA vaccine have been diagnosed with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or pericarditis pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardium, the fibrous sac surrounding the heart). These effects have been most common among young men after receiving their second dose of vaccine. The symptoms have usually been mild, and those who have had such symptoms have generally recovered well.
According to preliminary results from the United States, these rare adverse effects have occurred in men or boys aged 12 to 17 at a rate of 3.2 per 100,000 vaccinated persons.
Although coronavirus vaccines have been rapidly introduced, the development work is based on decades of research. No trial stages have been left out, and coronavirus vaccines are evaluated based on the same criteria as other vaccines.
The safety of coronavirus vaccinations is being monitored in Finland and elsewhere also now that the vaccinations are ongoing.
Millions of people aged 12 to 15 have already been vaccinated with mRNA vaccines in the United States, Canada and many European countries. It is known from experience that the vast majority of the adverse effects of vaccines emerge within six weeks of vaccination.
3- Where are the coronavirus vaccines given to people aged 12 to 15 coming from?
A separate batch of vaccines has not been ordered for young people. Instead, young people receive the same Biontech-Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines as adults.
The size of and interval between vaccine doses is also the same as for adults.
All the vaccines come to Finland directly from the pharmaceutical factory.
4. Why have so many coronavirus vaccine adverse reaction reports been made in Finland? Can all these reports be processed?
A person who has been vaccinated or the organisation administering the vaccination has the opportunity to report any suspected adverse reactions to the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea.
Fimea processes all the reports it receives. An urgency assessment is made for these reports, and those containing serious or unexpected adverse reactions are processed first.
This urgency assessment primarily affects the urgency of the processing of the reports and the speed of the exchange of information between Fimea, the European Medicines Agency and the vaccine market authorisation holder.
The adverse effect reports reflect the observations and opinions of the notifier and do not mean that the causal link between the vaccine and the effects observed is confirmed.
The aim of the system is to detect any rare adverse effects that may occur only once the number of vaccinated people is very high. However, adverse effects mentioned in the vaccine package leaflet and summary of product characteristics, such as fever or pain at the injection site, are also often reported. These notifications are also processed and saved.
The person submitting the report decides for themselves whether the possible adverse reaction is serious or non-serious. The authorities do not change this classification after having processed the report. Adverse reaction reports are primarily assessed on medical grounds and not solely on the basis of the reported severity.
In the case of other medicines and vaccines, it has been observed that the adverse effects of new products are reported more actively than those that have already been in use for a longer period of time.
The safety of vaccines is monitored in a number of ways: by means of adverse reaction reports, by analysing information from health care registers and by sharing information internationally, including through the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
5- Does a young person become eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine based on their year of birth or their birthday?
In accordance with the marketing authorisation, mRNA vaccines from Biontech-Pfizer and Moderna may only be administered to persons aged 12 or over.
Therefore, for the school grade aged 11 and 12, only those pupils who have reached the age of 12 can be offered the vaccination.
Other pupils can obtain the vaccination later, once they have turned 12.
Clinical studies on coronavirus vaccination of children under the age of 12 are currently under way.
For more information on vaccinating children and youth, visit THL's website.